Giving Graduate Students the Tools for Change

In its first year, the GLIDE program is teaching Arts and Sciences graduate students how to strengthen diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the workplace

As a young Black woman in the United States, first-generation immigrant from Angola, and first-generation college graduate, Carolina Gonçalves says that issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) are inevitably central to her identity.

But when she came to Tufts in 2019 to pursue her Ph.D. in child study and human development, she felt ill-equipped to get involved in DEIJ work. “I just didn’t know how to approach something so huge. I felt like I needed the tools,” she said.

Gonçalves found her toolbox in the new Graduate Leadership in Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (GLIDE) program that launched last August to train students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) to be workplace change agents. Gonçalves became one of seven inaugural GLIDE Fellows who gained new skills through semester-long training that combined a week of summer study with a fall practicum in which they applied what they’d learned to a real-world project of their design.

For her practicum, Gonçalves created Tufts for Teens (TFT), an immersive program that will pair high school juniors, particularly students of color, who are unfamiliar with academic research, with Tufts graduate students of similar backgrounds and interests. The high school students will learn what academic research and graduate study entail and receive culturally sensitive mentoring; the graduate students will strengthen their ability to communicate about their work.

Gonçalves hopes TFT will address a gap she herself experienced. Although she attended a college-preparatory high school in Chicago, she didn’t have a clear idea of the opportunities college might offer.

“From the time I was young, I always loved what I now know is research, but I didn’t really understand that concept or see that research could be a big part of college and graduate school,” she said. A program like TFT might have guided her, she offered, perhaps leading her to do undergraduate work at a major research university rather than choosing a small liberal arts college in Illinois.

Gonçalves has already had initial talks with Medford school officials and applied for a grant from the Arts and Sciences Diversity Fund. “Before GLIDE, I felt that anything I could do in DEIJ wouldn’t really be very helpful. GLIDE taught me that I don’t have to solve the entire problem. Making a change within a small community can have a big impact,” Gonçalves said.

Joining Passion and Practicality

GLIDE is the brainchild of Jackie Dejean, associate dean of research for the School of Arts and Sciences and associate dean for diversity and inclusion at GSAS. When she assumed her research deanship in 2017, one of her goals was to create a program that would teach graduate students how to advance DEIJ in whatever space they worked. Making that vision a reality assumed new urgency in 2020 during the national reckoning on race and Tufts’ formal commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution.

In August 2021, the first GLIDE Fellows brought with them a rich array of backgrounds, life experiences, and academic interests, but they all shared one thing: a strong commitment to anti-racism. “GLIDE is a program for those who already have that passion but realize they need the practical skills to make a difference,” said Dejean. “I wanted graduate students to understand that the power to transform the workplace was not some secret. They could learn the skills to do it effectively regardless of where they decided to go professionally.”

GLIDE, which is tuition-free and provides a $1,000 stipend, steeps students in the business and ethics case for DEIJ in the workforce, the legal landscape, and hiring and retention practices. The curriculum—moderated and taught by Tufts faculty and staff and outside experts—draws on change management principles that teach students how to create urgency, attract allies, and adjust approaches without sacrificing essential objectives.

From September through November, the GLIDE Fellows design and execute a practicum and then, in early December, they present that work, including research, data, and results, to their peers and mentors. Dejean is proud that the inaugural group of fellows actively helped to shape the curriculum, by having requested, for example, the addition of training on successful negotiating and critical race theory.

Dejean and her colleagues taught the fellows how to break the daunting challenge of dismantling structural racism into manageable tasks: small, quick wins that can build momentum and lead to long-term success. Maddie Nelson, a Museum Studies certificate student who develops adult educational programming for the Smithsonian Institution, wants that organization to attract and serve a more diverse membership.

GLIDE enabled her to identify a key obstacle to such change: the lack of a staff member dedicated to such work. So, Nelson focused her GLIDE practicum on defining a job description for such a role and building the business case (complete with market research and implementation strategies) for adding a team member to strengthen diversity and inclusion.

She engaged Smithsonian colleagues throughout proposal development. “My supervisor has been supportive, and I’m excited about discussing this proposal in detail this spring,” said Nelson, who plans to begin working towards her master’s in museum education at Tufts in the fall.

Arooj Alam, a first-year doctoral student in history, focused her practicum on creating SASH (South Asian Students in History), a coalition of graduate students that will provide professional and personal resources to address obstacles frequently faced by South Asian and other minority history scholars. Their aim? To foster better understanding of the field of South Asian history through their research, encourage aspiring academics to successfully pursue graduate studies in history, and prepare junior scholars to navigate the complexities of academia by, for example, introducing them to key databases and journals and by reviewing conference and graduate school applications.

Informing the practicum were Alam’s own journey and research among history department students, particularly those of South Asian heritage, who identified a need for more mentoring and networking and who often reported lack of family support for their choice of history as a field.

Alam believes doctoral history students can play a leadership role in addressing these needs. She has set three goals for the coming semester: to file paperwork to get SASH recognized as an official graduate student organization; to forge links with like-minded undergraduate organizations to co-sponsor speakers; and to pursue a graduate/undergraduate forum led by South Asian students.

“If you see a need for change, you have to start with yourself, and I’m holding myself accountable,” said Alam, “but SASH would never have taken off without Dean Dejean, the other GLIDE Fellows, and the immense help I received from my department. DEI should not be a lonely road.”

Dejean reported that the efforts of all seven fellows in completing their practica—in the face of continuing challenges posed by the pandemic—and delivering robust and thoughtful presentations to their peers exceeded her expectations. This success, she emphasized, would have been impossible without an environment in which the fellows felt safe talking about uncomfortable subjects like racism. “We wanted students to be very aware of how their preconceived notions and identity were shaping their understanding or misunderstanding, and we also wanted to be sure our environment was nurturing, not triggering or harmful,” she said.

Periods of individual reflection followed by one-on-one conversations were especially helpful in fostering constructive dialogue among the fellows. “We could speak frankly, knowing it was okay to say the wrong thing, be corrected, and learn,” said Nelson, who noted that her white identity automatically confers societal privilege. “Even done by Zoom, those conversations were where closeness developed.”

Looking Toward the Future

In June, GLIDE will begin accepting applications for the Fall 2022 semester. While the first cohort included an impressive range of students, next semester Dejean hopes to enroll more fellows with even greater diversity in identities and academic interests. As a direct result of Nelson’s participation, the program, originally aimed at master’s and doctoral candidates, will also encourage future applications from other certificate students. “We initially assumed that certificate students could not spare the time to do the practicum, but Maddie proved that they can flourish in the GLIDE program,” said Dejean.

Dejean also sees the potential for GLIDE Fellows to develop paid practicums to help small businesses and nonprofits strengthen their organizations by addressing DEIJ issues. She’s also considering a version of GLIDE that would enable such organizations to enroll their employees as GLIDE Fellows.

Gonçalves is looking even farther, to future generations of students who may benefit from TFT. “I hope younger siblings of the students who participate in Tufts for Teens will be influenced by that participation. I hope they will be more aware of opportunities open to them and better prepared for those opportunities,” she said. (Editor's note: In April 2022, Gonçalves's work on the Tufts for Teens project was recognized with a Diversity Fund grant from the School of Arts and Sciences.)

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